University of Wyoming’s Afghanistan Mission, 1953 to 1973

The current troubling events in Afghanistan brings to mind the bond that the University of Wyoming once enjoyed with that country.

Under George “Duke” Humphrey – UW’s president from 1945 to 1964 – the university began developing international programs to aid in its academic and scholarly expansion. One of the first programs to provide international student and faculty exchanges involved the U.S. State Department’s Agency in International Development (USAID) and the Royal Government of Afghanistan. At that time Afghanistan was a monarchy ruled by King Mohammed Zahir Shah.

During the 1950s and 60s, Afghanistan’s government was quite outwardly facing, making strides toward a more liberal and westernized lifestyle. In fact, at Zahir Shah’s behest a new constitution was introduced in 1964 which made Afghanistan a modern democratic state by introducing free elections, a parliament, civil rights, women’s rights, and universal suffrage. His wife, Queen Humaria Begum, created the Women’s Welfare Association in 1946, which was the first-ever women’s institute in Afghanistan. Afghan women were able to wear pencil skirts if they liked, attend school with no problems, and mix freely with men. They did not require a male guardian to travel.

Afghan women browsing in a record store, ca. 1955. Image from a photobook published by the Afghan planning ministry in the 1950s and republished by Mohammed Qayoumi in a photo essay that appeared in 2010 in Foreign Policy magazine. Qayoumi grew up in Kabal in the 1950s and 60s.
Afghan women in a biology class at Kabul University, ca. 1955. Attribution above.

USAID chose the University of Wyoming to consult in Afghanistan due in part to physical similarities of the two places—high, dry, mountainous, and never easy to farm.

The agreement initiating UW’s involvement in Afghanistan was signed in 1953, the program was underway by 1956, and the first nine Afghan students—the original class—graduated from Kabul University in 1959 with B.S. degrees in agriculture. The program included exchanges as well; male Afghan agriculture students studied on the Laramie campus during these years.

Page 215 of the University of Wyoming’s 1956 WYO Yearbook.

More than 30 UW professors spent varying amounts of time in Afghanistan. It wasn’t always easy. There were conflicts, UW historian Deborah Hardy notes, over personnel and staffing, there were housing and communications difficulties, and the underlying mission of the program was often unclear. “Politics, too, intervened,” she writes in her history of UW, without elaborating further. “Few complained,” she notes, “although conditions were far from ideal.” She explained further that the UW program “surged and wobbled” and finally was phased out in 1973.

A high point came in September 1963, when President Humphrey and a cohort of Afghan exchange students welcomed Queen Humaira and King Zahir Shah to Laramie. Here are photographic highlights from that visit. Additional images from the visit can be found at the American Heritage Center.

Photo is captioned: “During the welcoming ceremonies King Zahir shook hands with Mr. G. W. Arnold, director of the Afghanistan program at the University of Wyoming. In the center of the picture is the smiling face of His Majesty King Zahir, Mrs. Hilston, Mrs. G. W. Arnold, and Arnold.
Photo File: Afghanistan, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.
Photo is captioned: “His Majesty (center) reached for a sample of wool as the royal tour paused briefly by the sheep pens on the University of Wyoming livestock farm.”
Photo File: Afghanistan, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.
Photo is captioned: “King Zahir (fifth from left) exhibited keen interest in dairying as he examined one of the top University of Wyoming milk cows. On the King’s right and facing the camera is [College of Agriculture] Dean Hilston.”
Photo File: Afghanistan, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.
Photo caption: “Queen [Humaira] (R) asked that her picture be taken with Miss Tierney who helped serve the tea at the Lembcke ranch home.
Photo File: Afghanistan, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.
Photo is captioned: “King Zahir visited intimately with some Afghan subjects who are students in the United States, mainly at the University of Wyoming.”
Photo File: Afghanistan, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.
Photo is captioned: “President Humphrey conferred upon the King of Afghanistan, the University’s highest tribute, the honorary Doctor of Laws degree. The King dressed in full academic regalia graciously received the printed citation.” Standing left to right are President Humphrey, College of Engineering Dean H. T. Person, King Zahir Shah, and Professor of Geology Samuel H. Knight
Photo File: Afghanistan, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.
Photo is captioned: “Assembled luncheon guests listened attentively to the royal message from the
King of Afghanistan.”
Photo File: Afghanistan, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.
Photo is captioned: “President Humphrey presented Queen [Humaira] with a bouquet of roses as the Queen prepared to leave Cheyenne aboard the U.S. Air Force jet transport.
Photo File: Afghanistan, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.
Photo is captioned: “Afghan nationals, students enrolled in the U.S. universities, wave good-bye to their King at the Cheyenne airport as he starts on the next leg of his tour that will take him to San Francisco.” Photo File: Afghanistan, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Some months after the royal couple left, a UPI story in the Casper Star-Tribune noted that two Wyoming state troopers, Sgt. J.D. Maxted of Laramie and Lt. A.D. Reese of Cheyenne, had received solid gold medals of honor, the “highest awards given civilians by the government of Afghanistan,”  from the king for “services rendered.” Perhaps the troopers had acted as security for the royals when they were here.

Zahir Shah, the last king of Afghanistan, was deposed in a bloodless coup in 1973, which may explain why the UW-Afghan partnership ended at that time. He had reigned since 1933, making him longest serving ruler of the country since the 18th century. In late December 1979 the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, beginning decades of conflict that continue today.

The American Heritage Center houses a number of collections pertaining to UW’s Afghanistan mission. They include the papers of F. Paul Baxter, Robert D. Burman, Dale and Muriel Fritz, Gerald A. Nielsen, Wilhelm G. Solheim, Grace Willard, and the University of Wyoming President’s Office records.

Post contributed by AHC Simpson Archivist Leslie Waggener. Thanks to Tom Rea and Rebecca Hein of WyoHistory for text included in this post.


This entry was posted in Afghanistan, Agricultural history, Agriculture, Political history, Uncategorized, University of Wyoming history, Wyoming history and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to University of Wyoming’s Afghanistan Mission, 1953 to 1973

  1. Farid Muti says:

    My father Professor Dr Mohammed Hassan Muti father science and technology past away on November 4 2008 in portland Maine USA at the age 74 He was advisor higher education Department of Afghanistan and the top Democratic member in USA and good friend of president obama and Senator Olympia snow and america

    • ahcadmin says:

      Dear Mr. Muti: We so appreciate you sharing this information. By chance, did your father keep papers pertaining to his career? We would be interested in housing them at the American Heritage Center.

      • says:

        Good afternoon yes i have copy his Degree in civil engineering from Wyoming university if you want i can send you by email or by mail all his Ducument his new picture before he past away and all his information.

      • ahcadmin says:

        That would be wonderful. If you don’t mind, please email me at and we can discuss your offer further.

  2. Farid. Muti says:

    My father professor Dr Muti published engineering books. Hyduralics. Statics . Drafting and engineering welding by master level

  3. Dennis Werling says:

    Lillian Werling, my mother, was the secretary in Dr. Gordon’s office from 1956-1959. One day she was taking notes in shorthand, when some of the Afghan students came in. “Mrs. Werling,” one said, “do you know Arabic?” A student name Muti was the only one I could beat at chess.
    Dennis Werling, LHS class of 1958

    • Farid muti says:

      my father Muti was at the Wyoming university 1956 — 1959 i have a copy his bs civil engineering Professional engineering degree from Wyoming university after copley his education from Wyoming university he was accepted at the university of south California LA for high education engineering and education.

    • Farid muti says:

      You were with my father the same class

  4. Farid muti says:

    My father professor Dr Mohammad Hassan Muti was father Kabul university and father science and technology

  5. Farid Muti says:

    good evening from Professor Dr Mohammad Hassan Muti father science & technology and Kabul University Father Family Happy Thanksgiving to all university Personal and faculty staff, when i was at elementary school in Afghanistan, father was teaching at Kabul university at engineering faculty also he was the first Afghan Professor with engineering degree from USA, the rest of Professors was teaching at engineering faculty was Americans all they were good friend and Americans Professors family invite my father and family for thanksgiving lunch also my father invite them also for our Eid celebration and Afghan new year

  6. Abdul Hakimi says:

    Thanks for your very interesting post about the WU students from Afghanistan and the late King’s visit. One of our professors at the Faculty of Engineering in Kabul had studied electrical engineering at WU. His name was Wahed Zia. He passed away a few years ago. Mr. Payenda Mohammad shown in the picture from 1956 lives in the Fort Worth, Texas area. All the best.

    • ahcadmin says:

      Many thanks for this information. The American Heritage Center is assisting in building an online network for University of Wyoming alumni from Afghanistan so your message is particularly helpful.

  7. Ahmad Farid Muti says:

    My father 15 years anniversary my father professor Dr Mohammad Hassan Muti father science & Technology & Father Kabul University’s past away on November 4 2008 in Portland Maine at the age 74 he was good friend of president Obama & congressman Tom Allan & x senator Olympia snow & president of university of south Maine Dr Richard Patternard & governor John Baldaci & governor of Maine Elizabeth Mitchell & Mayor of city of Portland George Kambell & Senator Angus king

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